Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘sympathy’

As Bob Lies Dying

My brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, is dying from cancer.


My Sisters, circa 1970

My Sisters, circa 1970

There are lots of details of how it started five years ago with a simple skin cancer. Treatments. Recurrence. Spreading. Treatments.

Now he is leaving the hospital after his kidneys began to fail. He’s going home, to finish his journey “on his own terms”, as my nephew, his son, states.

Not only a beloved family member, but a contemporary. Just a few years older than my wife and I. Stuck in denial? It’s unreal. It’s unfathomable.

I’ve always looked up to and admired Bob, since I met him when I was about 16. I remember the first time I saw him. My sister Bonnie and I were driving through Johnstown and there he was, playing basketball on an outdoor court.

“There’s Bob!” Bonnie screamed as she saw him, turning down the volume on the rendition of “Bobby’s Girl” she played repeatedly.

We couldn’t stop right away because she’d just finished a cigarette, and Bob hated cigarettes. We hit the drug store for soap and breath mints.

Thirty-plus years later, Bob lies dying.

Bob is a third-generation farmer, but a college-educated one. A degree from Cobleskill Ag & Tech. When his father got out of the dairy business, Bob went to work for the town and stayed there until retirement.

He was cantankerous, sarcastic and flawless. He never smoked, and drank little.

When they were married, Bob, along with help from friends of all kinds, built the house he and Bonnie would call home, (I mean he built it, he didn’t have it built for him) eventually filling it with a girl and a boy and dogs and cats over the years.

Bob went down to the creek and hand-picked the stones to build the double-faced fireplace, the centerpiece of the living room and kitchen.

I guess I really don’t simply look up to and admire Bob, but am in awe.

As I grew into a young man, Bob’s example was quite a high bar to reach for. Like great people from history, Lincoln, King, Kennedy, Salk, I always felt that Bob was one of those people whom I could never equal. I could never be all the things Bob was, but I could try to emulate as best as I could.

Now, Bob lies dying.

These days are fractured. At work I am distracted by demands, and the pace of the day engulfs me. A tech calls for support and I run to the parts room. FedEx Freight is on the line about shipping from Houston. Someone relates an anecdote and I laugh. Then I remember. How can we be laughing? Bob lies dying.

At home I fall into the routines of daily life. Filling the pellet stove. Letting the dog out. Letting the dog in. Then I remember. How can these things fill my mind while Bob lies dying?

I drive to work. I drive home. I think of Bob as he lies dying. I think of my sainted mother, our dear late friend Mary Mone, her husband Frank. How life and work and laughter and driving and letting dogs in and out just continues as we lay dying, as we entomb our loved ones and friends, as the flowers on the graves fade and wither and are removed by cemetery caretakers.

I think of my own death, my own funeral. How strange it is to think that family and friends will be mourning my passing (perhaps), while all around them and dead me the world will keep going. It won’t hesitate for a moment. It will make little difference to anyone other than the undertaker.

With this thought I am kindred with Bob. And all the Bobs and dead me’s that have come before us. We are never ready to say goodbye.

And the world and the pellet stoves and the dogs and FedEx carry on. It’s a strangely warm sensation that they will continue with nary a skipped heartbeat for those that still have them. The world will keep spinning, and the universe expanding. Babies will be born, Bonnies will be married. Bobs will build homes.

Many years ago, behind the hearse in a procession of cars a mile long, we wound our way to the cemetery. The procession moves slowly, as if it helps to slow down the parting, spread out the pain and loss. Someone at the back of the line was not in the procession. They peeled out and raced past the cars and the hearse, on their way to work or responding to an ambulance call or going to see their sister’s new-born baby. Even in that moment was an understanding that we can’t all join in the procession. The world can not slow down because you died.

And I am writing blog posts and approving overtime and buying Gravy Bones for the dog and I remember.

How can we write and approve and shop as Bob lies dying?

In New Orleans, the band plays jazz ahead of your casket as it wends its way to the cemetery. I don’t know much else about a creole funeral, but I know it embraces the concept of celebrating a life as we move the decedent to their final rest.

My mind is fogged with all of these thoughts. In little glimpses, my armchair zen reveals lessons learned. The sense of the constant and timeless universe. The sense that we are all but specks on a speck of a rock in a far-flung galaxy arm. We come and go as through a revolving door and the universe is unaffected.

Still, something in my upbringing, my life, my past, my desire and attachment, feels impending loss despite conscious efforts to navigate this in a learned and wise fashion. Now is the time to bring all my living and zenning and caring to my sister and Bob. Their kids. Their grandkids. There is work to be done. I must go now.

As Bob lies dying.


Seek peace,



The Call

This is the first of a 3-part journal entry. Read The Longest Ride (November 2014) followed by One Step of Our Journey (December 2014) for the rest of the story. -Paz

My puppy

My puppy

I identify myself as a “dog person”. This must be understood as a preface to this entry. To many folks, a dog is a fine pet. To dog people, they’re barely a notch below children as members of our family, the beings we choose to love. I have had the privilege of having dogs accompany me in my journey throughout my entire life.

This one, Chuy, is a rare, once-in-a-lifetime canine companion. I’ve known many dogs, but none such as he. He’s very loving, smart, well-behaved (mostly), and has become the neighborhood dog. We live in the country, and he has always known total freedom to come and go as he pleased. He heads across the road to Tom & Lynn’s house, where they feed him hot dogs at their cookouts. He meanders up the road a piece to Mike & Michelle’s, and they were delighted when they could finally get him to come into their home.  If you’re a regular reader of ACZ, you know many entries include Chuy, and our lives together.

Last Wednesday I received the call.

“You’d better come home.” my wife said solemnly. “I think Scoob’s had a stroke.” (While my name for him has always been Chuy, others know him by the name my son gave him: Scooby Doo. Scoob for short. Scoober as the neighbors call him.)

At thirteen and-a-half years old, I can’t say I haven’t thought about the end of our trail together. In a way, though on the brink of tears, I was relieved in some sense that this end would come in a natural and peaceful fashion at home.  Not some terrible calamity, such as being hit by a car. (To understand my devotion to Chuy’s right to liberty, including the crossing of the ever-dangerous road, see ACZ archives Reply to a Senior Samurai, October 2013).

When I arrived home, Chuy was in the kitchen, lying beneath the kitchen table, one of his favorite spots. A typical greeting would include his trotting over to me, tail wagging, or perhaps walking slowly if he’d just arisen from an afternoon nap. Dog people know how a dog expresses emotion. Taffy actually smiled, as I’ve seen a few other dogs do. They imitate humans by pulling up their noses to bare their front teeth. It’s fun if you’re lucky enough to experience it. It’s scary to strangers, as they think your dog has rabies.

This evening, Chuy did not give me his happy face. In fact, he didn’t even lift his head as I knelt beside him to kiss the top of his furry head. His left eye twitched, highlighted by the eyebrow mark on his fur. He could not stand.

We’re never ready to say goodbye.

I was glad for Chuy that, in spite of this strange occurrence that must place him somewhere between confused and scared, he was in his own home with his favorite people. I spent a long time lying on the floor beside him, reminding him that he had done a great job, how he was the best puppy ever.

It saddens me that we can’t explain things to our animal friends. This is the Vet, you’ll be okay. You’re recovering from anesthesia, which is why the world is swimming. I’ll help you ambulate, and you’ll be okay. Thunder can’t hurt you, you must know by now, after all these years. I’m here, you’ll be okay.

Tonight I could not tell my fuzzy friend that he would be okay. Well, maybe I could. Maybe I did. Truth is, while dying and leaving and death and illness are scary or even painful sometimes, once we’re past that, everything is okay. At least for the one leaving.

It was with a heavy heart that I kissed the top of Chuy’s head and said “Good night, good puppy.”. We couldn’t know for sure where we were headed tonight, tomorrow, but we expected Chuy would leave us, silently in the night. What more could any of us hope for?

I slept on the couch so I wouldn’t be far away if he sniffed for me or perhaps cried out. I didn’t want to go to a bedroom where he would be unable to do so.

A great calm overtook me. Not that I wasn’t saddened or heartbroken. Anxious about what the morning would bring. But this is what we do. For our animals, for each other. I’ll put on my brave face, I will smile for you. Whatever needs to be navigated now, I will do so with clear and sober devotion.

I could feel a change in my world already, and knew that when we greeted tomorrow’s sunrise, things would be irreversibly different.

It was a quiet and uneventful night. In the morning, light would streak through the windows of a silent home. There would be no jingling tags on a collar. There would be no wet nose waking me.

Next time: The Longest Ride.


Be at peace,

All beings with hearts.

Human animals, and otherwise.





I see angels

Living, breathing angel

The boy fell to his knees, his face dropped to his hands.

What was I to do, being just a mortal man?

I said “You’re at the end of your rope, son, not the end of your road.”

Sometimes we need to help a broken angel with their load.


I see angels all around me. Angels you can see.

Living, breathing angels right where they ought to be.

This whole world’s full of angels, from sea to shining sea.

It’s a world full of angels waiting for us to let them be.


A man clutched my hands as tears welled in his eyes.

I said “There are no words. We’re never ready to say goodbye.”

Most folks don’t know that sometimes angels need a hand.

He said “No one knows my pain. No one understands.”


I told him “There are angels all around you, angels you can see.

Living, breathing angels, right where they need to be.

It’s a world full of angels, from sea to shining sea,

A world full of angels waiting for you, and me.”


I see that little baby, sleeping in her bed.

See the days and weeks and months and years that lay ahead.

Her mother and her brother, and all her kith and kin,

This whole great wide world around her, all the same beneath the skin.


I see angels all around me. Angels you can see.

Living, breathing angels right where they want to be.

It’s a world full of angels, from sea to shining sea.

A world full of angels waiting for us

To set them free.

On the passing of Andy Griffith

The full tree

I won’t waste anyone’s time trying to describe the career of the man or the way his work and collaboration has touched people.  I’m so fortunate to live in a tiny town which we for years have often referred to as Mayberry, to the extent I even got to say “Good morning, Sheriff.” not long ago in the village. (Yes, it really was the Sheriff, a neighbor whose son dated my daughter in school.)

Just wanted to share an outline of an episode that touched my heart and soul, helped to shape my Armchair Zen, and to this day brings tears to my eyes. Andy Griffith’s career included much more than his character of Sheriff Taylor in two TV series’, but it is this character for which he is best known and loved. He had a lot of influence on the show’s production, including the location of the fictional Mayberry, not far from his home, which I believe was Mount Airy.

In this episode, his young son Opie (Ron Howard, now a Hollywood legend in his own right, who describes working on the show as a wonderful life-building experience, and Mr.Griffith as everything we see in Andy Taylor) has a BB gun, and shoots a songbird in the tree beside his bedroom window. While Andy is a sportsman, he is deeply disappointed and angry with Opie that he would shoot a songbird, an unsportsmanlike act. In addition, the bird has a nest of fledglings, now orphaned. In scolding his son, he opens the bedroom window as Opie is put to bed, and tells the child to listen to those babies calling for their mother who is never coming home, to drive home the impact of Opie’s actions.

Subsequently, Opie decides to redeem himself by taking the birds in, putting them in a cage, feeding and raising them as restitution for his crime against nature. Mr.Taylor is pleased that his son is learning about his impact, and has taken a proactive step to remedy his wrongdoing.

Before long, the little fledglings are grown enough to leave the nest. The child has become attached to the creatures as pets, and the father admonishes him that the right thing to do is set them free to return to the wild. This is a difficult and agonizing thing for a child of perhaps six years of age, but ultimately he follows through with his father’s wishes and advice, and the birds are released to fly off.

In the last scene, Opie is a bit forlorn that the fun and excitement, the gratification of having the birds in his room, is over. Pouting, he looks at the vacant birdcage as his father stands at the bedroom window from which the tale began.

“Gee, pa, that cage sure looks empty.”, the lad says longingly.

“Yes.”, Andy says, as he turns to the window and gazes out with a half-smile and a glad heart.

“But don’t the trees look nice and full.”

Be at peace


Always and Forever

My Hero

This is the premise, the basic promise for long-term relationships, such as traditional marriages.

“Forever” is a solemn promise, and typical quotes from marriage ceremonies in this society include dedication to be true through “better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health”.

These are the big dramatic parts of a promise ceremony, yet at the outset of a young marriage they are more like a list of tests the wedded couple will face one day. The results will vary widely from couples that endure all unto their deaths, and other cases where the least bit of stress or inconvenience can lead to dissolution of the bond.

“Forever” is the most important aspect of this promise, and that only becomes truly understood as one draws nearer to the “end of Forever”, our mortal life. It’s a lofty goal when one is young, but as one ages it becomes a foundation, something to be relied upon without question or doubt.

When we really begin looking down the barrel of aging, life’s trials, the events that befall us, we reach for the assurance that the promise of “Forever” will be kept.

When we lose a good job or position, regardless of the reason. When we lose our teeth and are fitted with dentures. When we are stricken with the debts of our years and become weakened, even hobbled, by the diseases and conditions of our bodies.

Are you really going to stick by me when I lose use of a leg? When my speech becomes impaired? How about if my brain is stricken, and I become, essentially, a different person than the one you made that promise to? Perhaps there’s a tipping point…15 years, 20 years, 30…40, when one no longer doubts the promise. Perhaps for some there is never any doubt.

Perhaps for others, the doubt is never fully quelled. Perhaps for some, they stick with it simply because of the promise. That’s “Forever” in a nutshell.

“Always” is the hard part. Always means ALL ways, ALL the time. To love someone “Forever and Always” means every day, through everyday trials and tribulations, through the ordinary and extraordinary millions of hours that will comprise our lives together.

Not only when you’re sick with the flu, but when you’re sick from drinking Pepsi & vodka.

Not just when you’re down because your dog died, but when you are unreachable and inconsolable over much greater loss.

When you’re smiling and complimenting me, as well as when you are angry and vilifying me.

When you’re all dressed up and smelling like a rose as well as when you’ve been through the wringer and smell like…what is that awful smell?

“Always” is the day you got the big raise, the day you bought a boat without even asking me, and the day your company moved to Guam and kicked you (and our finances) to the curb.

“Always” includes that touching, perfect gift only you could bring, and then again the time you showed up empty-handed on our anniversary.

Stress is relative, and young relationships are more prone to stress from short-sighted goals and egocentricity. My time for my buddies, the things you did before we were married, the friend who has been with you since first grade and thinks he can still be your fishing pal. The amount of time you spend with me, the number of things you do that rub me the wrong way, your attitude toward this big decision, this giant step, and whether you’re serious about “Forever”.

Even the Zen Master can find it difficult, while maintaining a solid commitment to “Forever”, to navigate the pop-up skirmishes of our “Always”.

Next time you get to an “Always” you think you need to address, just try to remember what’s in the best interest of “Forever”.

You can “always” say something, but do you want it to be on record “forever”?

Be at peace,


I just don’t want to argue with you any more

Into the fray

Please show me the way to make peace with your heart.

How do I stop this thing? How do I don’t let it start?

How do I know what to say? How do I know what I said?

When do I shut my mouth and keep it all in my head?

I just don’t want to argue with you any more.

I just don’t want to quarrel with you any more.

I just don’t want to fight with you any more.

I just don’t want to argue with you any more.

Can’t see my light, can’t plot a course.

Can’t navigate through the regret and remorse.

I’m trying to rise to find a better way

but it all gets entangled in all that we say.

What if I don’t argue about it any more?

Chilled to the bone, burned from the heat.

Cold as a stone, I’m dead on my feet.

Do I laugh like a fool? Do I break down and cry?

Do I fall to my knees? Do I lay down and die?

I’m just not going to argue with you any more.

Just not going to quarrel with you any more.

No, I’m not going to fight with you any more.

I’m just not going to argue about it any more.

Just not going to argue with you any more.

I just don’t want to argue with you any more.

If it’s not like us, kill it.

This quote and concept came about during philosophical conversations regarding perception, judgement, instinct, and training humans acquire regarding things that are unlike ourselves.

In its simplest form, we can see that many (if not most) humans have less regard for living things as the difference from ourselves increases.

We feel & espouse sympathy, empathy and compassion rather easily when it comes to humans. Victims of natural disasters, underprivileged children, diseased or starving people, those under oppression.

We tend to think in similar ways when it comes to other primates. Chimpanzees and orangutans…”they’re so like us”.

We have close affinities and strong affections for the mammals that have chosen to cohabitate with us, with rules and exceptions. We can love dogs or cats and invite them to be members of our human families, living with us often for many years. We can have similar relationships with horses. But not cows. Not sheep. Not Sika deer or chinchillas. Those are “livestock”. They can’t come in the house and may or may not have names, but they are too different from us to receive the same treatment as a human child, a puppy or kitten.

Some folks have pet parrots. Parrots can talk to us, call us by name, and live about as long as humans (up to 70 years). Why are they not more popular? I can only wish my dog could talk to me, and frankly sometimes I think he’s trying.

I suppose some of this is close to the “Perspective” chapter of Armchair Zen Philosophy. Why are dogs living in the house, cats sleeping in our beds, parrots perching on our Soft Chair and ferrets playing with their ball in the living room while the cows are out in the barn and the chickens are in the coop and the rabbits are in hutches?

The history of human kind is filled with horrible tales of humans destroying and killing that which is different. Different skin colors, different customs, different religions, different political beliefs or different economic status. That’s just humans.

Trees are not like us, let’s clear-cut them.

Bison are not like us. Let’s kill all two million of them on the Great Plains. For money.

Gorillas are not enough like us, so let’s poach them and cut off their hands. For money.

Insects and reptiles are so far from us they don’t even count on the cosmic scale of respect for other life forms. I’ve watched so many humans mindlessly step on a spider, an ant, a squash bug, an earthworm. Why? When it would be just as easy to ignore these and walk away, we are compelled to kill it if it’s not like us.

I did my share of this mindless killing and destruction prior to seeking the path of enlightenment. I’d send money to save the children or save the whales or save the wolves while simultaneously poisoning mice and spraying insecticide and herbicide. Does that make any sense? In a human way, yes, but in a cosmic way, no.

I am a child of the cosmos, no less than the trees or the stars. I was quite a way down the path before I realized that the trees and stars are no less than me. In Armchair Zen, we have a term called universalism. This represents the understanding and philosophy that no one thing in the universe is more important than any other. It takes mental effort and will to embrace the idea that termites and rattlesnakes, box jellyfish and ticks, kudzu and eucalyptus, smallpox viruses and plankton are all children of the cosmos, and no less than me.

It’s still a wonderment, still a puzzlement, still baffling to try to understand humankind’s penchant to pick and choose, even within closely related biological families.

Domestic dog equals good, but wolf, fox or coyote equals bad?

Worse yet, it can be by degrees. Clean pretty cat equals good, starving ragged barn cat equals bad.

Sometimes these judgments are entirely projected on the victim species. Hummingbirds are beautiful, we fill feeders to attract cardinals and red-winged black birds, but crows are a nuisance, pigeons an eyesore. Talk to someone with a bird feeder and you may get a feel for their level of tolerance and condemnation. The blue jays are hogs that steal the birds’ food. Grackles are selfish and nasty, cowbirds crowd out the little sparrows. Wait…how can jays steal the birds’ food, when the jay is a bird? And why is being a “hog” a bad thing?

Watching the BBC documentary Planet Earth, I received a great Zen lesson that orbits near this topic.

We watch a rocky shore full of birds in a desolate landscape as they guard their newly hatched brood. Stalking the flock is a fox. We’re enamoured and impressed by the birds as they work together to fend off the fox. The fox slinks around and tries this way and that to get close to the easy lunch of flightless fledglings. We cheer as the birds drive off their foe. We identify with the birds’ fear and panic and bravery as they protect the very lives of their offspring. After a minute of watching, we curse the fox. Bad fox! Trying to kill the cute, fluffy, downy hapless chicks!

After witnessing this agony of nature longer than we’d prefer, we watch helplessly as the fox seizes an opening, darts in, and grabs a screeching white baby bird by the neck as its parents frantically try to save their little one. We watch the fox gleefully trot off with its ill-gotten gain. Our hearts go out to the birds, their loss. Fox seems pleased with itself. Four paws, sharp teeth, mature speed and agility…against birds without talons, with the rounded beaks of waterfowl, bound to earth by their flightless charges…this was not a fair fight. By now, Fox is almost evil!

In the next moment, we watch fox stride up the beach and arrive at a den, the bloody “baby” hanging from its hateful jaws.

Then the fox kits come out of the den to greet their mother. Suddenly, almost magically, fox is transformed from a ruthless murderer of innocent babies to a mother, putting every ounce of her 10-pound being into the effort to raise her own. Instantly, poor defenseless baby bird becomes a sorely needed meal for canine “babies”, living on the razor’s edge, trying to maintain their own survival in a harsh and sometimes brutal world. Now we feel sympathy and compassion for the birds, yet still we can identify with Mother Fox, and we harbor hopes for her brood’s survival.

The universe itself is without emotion. Without judgement. Without condemnation. The cosmos spends no more time thinking of its actions and consequences than water spends thinking about how to flow down hill. Things form, things are destroyed, things are reborn and re-destroyed a billion times a day. Trees, rocks, planets, people, foxes, birds, dogs, cats, squash bugs, spiders, icebergs, comets, mountains, hummingbirds, blue jays, blue skies, blue oceans, whales, wolves, cows, kids, moons, meteors, stars, galaxies, viruses and kudzu.

The cosmos has an advantage over students of Armchair Zen.

Since all of the cosmos is the cosmos, there is nothing that is not like it.

Be at peace,


The Long Path vs. The Daily Grind

Finding our place in the universe, in nature, helps us to feel the transitory nature of all things. We get so concerned with the societal and cultural elements in our lives that it’s difficult to remember that for most of us, whatever we did here will make little or no difference in a hundred years.

It can really be liberating to get to a place, literally sometimes, where we can feel how tiny and alone we are in the universe.

Day-to-day we must go to work, wash our clothes, feed our families. We become entrenched in the stage play that is our modern world, and that often makes us think in small ways. Today, tomorrow, the next ten minutes,dealing with this pain or paying that bill are real stressors in our lives, and it takes considerable amounts of concentration to get these things into perspective.

When I lose sight of the path, the long road, the universe as it existed before I lived and will exist long after I’m gone, my thoughts and emotions become short-sighted, immediate.

It’s only when I think of the long road that I can reign in this accursed brain. That I can stop to think that there are others worse off, with greater stresses, immediate dangers, fear, hunger, pain. Being five minutes late for work, being broke until payday, having a headache— when I let these things occupy my mind’s space like shiny trinkets I can’t take my eyes from, life suddenly becomes shorter, more complicated, sometimes downright annoying.

When I stop to truly see, I realize that these passing moments will be meaningless before I know it. What is more meaningful?

Being kind to my wife, children, co-workers, not allowing these transient annoyances to make me short-tempered or intolerant of them, to remember that these are among the greatest beauties in my life.

Seeking the solemnity and beauty of natural places, the walk after work or even envisioneering, where I visualize these inspiring places and moments. These places help me to see that the world, the universe, is entirely unaffected by the things in my tiny life, and I am indeed a part of this universe. If I was spit out of the universe right now, it would carry on without missing a beat.

Remembering that I live on a rock that is hurtling through space at a rate of 130 miles a second. Every moment is good fortune.

Remembering to be the me I imagine myself to be. One that is kind, compassionate, serving and sympathetic, because I feel in my heart that these are the highest callings for the use of this brain and this time on the planet.

We face these choices every moment of every day. To be agitated or accepting. To be judgemental or forgiving. To be a taker or a giver. In a way, the path is a selfish one, in that I seek understanding and enlightenment so that I may be at peace.

In another way, by example or action, it is a selfless path, as I seek my own peace by wishing peace for others, by sharing the bottomless well of love.

Be at peace.


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